Peeping into Öcalan’s ward
Sometimes, out of the blue, the devil puts something in my mind. Some papers have published “Ankara’s new Kurdish policy.” According to that, Abdullah Öcalan is out of the loop now. In this case, the state will not regard him as an interlocutor.
The question that came to my mind was how this decision would affect Öcalan’s life on İmralı. This question brought another thought to my mind. “What is Öcalan’s present life like there?”
Oya Armutçu, daily Hürriyet’s expert reporter on legal affairs from the Ankara bureau, is monitoring these matters. She and I wrote the story of a day in the life of Öcalan.
Parts of them were published in papers before but we have a right to know what is being provided for with the taxes that Turkish citizens are paying.
-Under which legal framework is Öcalan serving his sentence?
The death penalty given to Abdullah Öcalan was commuted to aggravated life sentence due to the amendment in the Turkish Penal Code. His sentence is being served on İmralı Island where the hearings took place.
- Was he given a special status there?
İmralı has the same status and same conditions as other F-type High Security Closed Prisons. Öcalan and the five prisoners sent to join him have a 32-square-meter sports room, a 20-square-meter hobby room and classroom of the same size.
- What do the other prisoners do?
The other prisoners are these convicts: Outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) members Bayram Kaymaz, Şehmuz Poyraz, Cumali Karsu and Hasbi Aydemir and Turkish Workers’ and Peasants’ Liberation Army (TİKKO) member Hakkı Alkan. As in other F-type prisons, Öcalan has a right to see his friends one hour a week.
- Does he make use of this right?
As long as he is not subject to a disciplinary punishment, he does.
- What other facilities can he make use of?
As in all other prisons, at İmralı Prison, the convicts have a sports room, hobby room and a classroom, and they can make use of them as long as “they don’t have any disciplinary punishments and continue [to display good conduct].”
- What changed after his lawyers filed complaints?
Öcalan’s room at the prison is 11.81 square meters. When he complained about his ward, a series of improvements were made. A bolted door was put on the ward. His daily exercise time was increased from one hour to two hours. When he said he could not get enough air, his door was changed to a gray bolted door. The insect screen on the window of the ward was removed and another window was opened at the top of the door. Öcalan was complaining about moisture. His walls were covered with imported wall paper and repainted.
Daily life in İmralı
- How does his daily life go?
He wakes up at 6 a.m. every morning. He takes a shower and shaves every day. He has his breakfast in his cell. There is no special menu. He receives the regular security personnel breakfast. The breakfast generally alternates between tea, white cheese, black olives, butter and tea or milk, jam/honey. On some days, the breakfast consists of tea and spinach or cheese pastry (börek) and seasonally added tomatoes and cucumbers.
After breakfast he reads the daily papers – those that are allowed – sent to him weekly by his lawyers. The full list of these papers is not known.
At 10 a.m. he goes outside into the open air right outside his room for one hour. He has a right to extend it to two hours. This is a one-person court with high walls on four sides. During his exercise hour he regularly does physical fitness exercises and sometimes continues them in his cell.
He eats lunch at noon. Just like breakfast, he eats the same menu prepared for the military. Because they are prepared for privates, as in any other military units in Turkey, there has to be a certain calorie level. Lunch and dinner have a different menu every day, for example kadınbudu köfte, kidney beans, tulumba dessert, white beans with mince, rice pilaf, fruit composte, soup, eggplant mousaka and yogurt. He goes to bed regularly at 10 p.m.
It is strictly forbidden for staff to speak to or communicate with Öcalan, except for a limited number of officials (and this is only when necessary).
He has a lipoma on his head
- His lawyers say he has continuous health problems.
Unless there is an emergency, he has a check-up every month. There is no anomaly with his health. From the start of his sentence, he regularly exercised and lost weight. In the first days of his arrest, he asked for extra food on the grounds that it was not enough for him. His demand was met.
- Does he have any complains?
There is a dermatocyst called a lipoma that has formed on his head. He sometimes has a burning sensation in his eyes and watering. A lipoma around the head is common among men. It is no danger to his health except for aesthetic concerns. These dermatocysts can be removed under local anesthesia in a five-minute operation.
The burning sensation in his eyes might be due to the constant light in his cell but experts say this does not present any risks to his eyesight. Officials say his cell is illuminated 24 hours a day due to security reasons and that night-time lighting is dimmed for sleep.
- What is the daily cost to the Justice Ministry?
It is fully enclosed and there are 165 cameras. Including meetings with lawyers, every moment is recorded. There are 250 officers and nearly 1,000 soldiers on the island. The island is under blockade from the sea.
New figures have not been disclosed but according to 2008 figures, an average calculation shows that the daily cost is 125,000 Turkish Liras. That means an annual cost of 45 million liras.
Ertuğrul Özkök is a columnist for daily Hürriyet in which this piece was published March 29. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.